By Jan Hennop, AFP
The device has 150 bamboo legs screwed into a central metal ball. Wind blows the lightweight object across a minefield, where it detonates hidden bombs. Credit: Massoud Hassani
Childhood toys lost in a war-torn field have inspired an
odd-looking invention which its young Dutch inventor hopes can help save
thousands of lives and limbs in his native Afghanistan.
of war, notably the 1979-89 Soviet invasion, have left the rugged Afghan
countryside littered with landmines that continue to exact a merciless
toll, mainly on children.
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Now, in a small workshop in the
industrial heart of the southern city of Eindhoven, the 29-year-old
Massoud Hassani screws in the last leg of an ingenious, wind-driven
gadget he built to clear anti-personnel mines. He calls the device, the
size of a golf buggy, a "mine kafon".
idea comes from our childhood toys which we once played with as kids on
the outskirts of Kabul," Hassani told AFP as he rolled out the device
for a demonstration.
Short for "kafondan," which in Hassani's
native Dari language means "something that explodes," the kafon consists
of 150 bamboo legs screwed into a central metal ball.
other end of each leg, a round, white plastic disk the size of a small
frisbee is attached via a black rubber car part for drive shafts, called
a CV-joint boot.
Assembled, the spherical kafon looks like a
giant dandelion head. And like the dandelion puff it moves with the
wind: the kafon is designed to be blown around, exploding anti-personnel
mines as it rolls on the ground.
With the legs made from bamboo,
they are easily replaceable. Once they are blown off it's simply a
matter of screwing on others, which means the kafon can be used over and
Inside the steel ball, a GPS device plots the kafon's path
as it rolls through an area that may be mined and shows on a
computerized map exactly where it is safe to walk.
still in the testing stages, notably to make sure there is 100 percent
contact between the kafon's "feet" and the ground, so no mine is missed.
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initial trials -- some using explosives with the Dutch Defense Force --
and an in-the-field rolling test in Morocco this year showed promising
"We know this is a working prototype and that we need to
do lots of testing still," said Hassani, saying the kafon would not be
deployed in real situations until it was 100-percent proven.
designer and his brother Mahmud, 27, are now looking for sponsors,
notably through an online platform called Kickstarter. They hope to raise 123,000 euros
(US $160,000) in donations by next month to fund development and
take the device to Afghanistan in August for more trials.
be the brothers' first time home after fleeing Taliban-ruled Kabul,
Massoud first in 1998 then Mahmud two years later, in arduous treks
through Pakistan and Uzbekistan. They finally made their way to the
Netherlands, where they were accepted as refugees and today hold Dutch
Massoud landed a place at the Design Academy
Eindhoven -- regarded as one of the world's foremost industrial design
schools -- where he first conceived the project in 2010.
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"I had to design a toy from my childhood," said the shaggy-haired inventor as he sipped a cup of tea.
went back into my childhood in a dream. I saw the toys we made and how
they rolled into a minefield," he told AFP. "We could never get them
Despite huge progress in mine-clearing in Afghanistan in recent years, it remains one of the most-mined countries in the world.
1989, around 650,000 anti-personnel mines, 27,000 anti-tank mines and
more than 15 million other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been
collected, according to the UN-funded Mine Action Coordination Centre of
In June this year, the UN said there were
still 5,233 "danger zones" covering 588 square kilometers (227 square
miles) putting more than 750,000 people at risk.
At least 812
people were wounded or killed last year by mines, victim-triggered
improvised explosive devices and other ordnance left over from the
Afghan wars, Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation Handicap
International said. More than half of the victims were children, it said.
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are killed almost daily in my home country -- and tragically it's often
kids, like what happened on Monday," said Hassani, eyes clouded with
painful memories from his own childhood.
His reference was to a
December 17 tragedy when 10 Afghan girls collecting firewood were blown
apart in the country's east after one accidentally struck a mine with an
"There is no silver bullet to solve all the problems
associated with mine clearing," conceded Mary Wareham, a senior advisor
at Human Rights Watch Arms Division. But "we appreciate every effort,"
including the kafon's invention, she told AFP.
For Hassani, his gadget is more than just a new way to fight a deadly scourge.
"This," he said, "will be our revenge on the war that has torn up our country."